The problem of capacity

It is unwise to rush to judgment in respect of the failure to utilise funds in K-P

Editorial December 27, 2017

Ever since the passing of the 18th Amendment there has been difficulty with the spending of funds that are devolved to provincial ministries and departments. The problem varies in severity across the country but in most cases — corruption aside — the root of the problem lies in capacity, the ability to actually spend the money effectively. This is a complex and multi-layered difficulty and was either poorly anticipated or inadequately prepared for and often both. Spending government money is not easy, and it requires an embedded skillset of proven ability if money is to go to the right place, into the right hands and then be turned into the effective operation of whatever project it was targeted at in the first place.

A snapshot of the many layers of development spending is today given by an analysis of the utilisation of development funding in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa where district governments are shown to have spent only 40 per cent of all the funds that have been released in the last two years. It was the first province to elect local governments, and moved fast to enact legislation enabling 30 per cent of the provincial development budget to be set aside and distributed across the three tiers of local government — district council, the tehsil municipal administrations and village or neighbourhood councils.

At district level there are probably competencies that would cope with the influx of money, but at village level that may not be the case. Village organisations in this respect are young and do not have the institutional maturity present higher up the chain. Capacity has to be built, it is not plug and play. Thus it is unwise to rush to judgment in respect of the failure to utilise funds in K-P. There was never going to be homogeneity of spending levels because there were and still are varying levels of preparedness. The competency/capacity gap will have to be narrowed and it is going to take several years to bridge. Meanwhile, there is a large and unanswered question — what happens to unspent budget? If it sits in the provincial global fund then it is making money — answers please.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 27th, 2017.

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